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How to Excel as a High Performance Product Leader

July 16, 2020

Product Leadership

I get to work with product people who are at the top of their game. The ProdPad team is bursting with awesome product experts both promoting and following product management best practices. It’s not just my stellar teammates who inspire me, however. I engage with product leaders all over the world who are using ProdPad.

As part of my role helping customers (especially Enterprise) set up their ProdPad account, I get to see product leaders who are excelling at their craft and empowering their teams to do the same. It’s a continual pleasure to work alongside them and help them deliver product management at such a high level.

So what sets great product leaders apart and what qualities do I encounter when collaborating with them?

Image: Product leaders need to across all product plans.

Team empowerment 

A product manager cannot, and frankly should not, do all of this alone. During stressful times, when you’re juggling multiple tasks and responsibilities, it might feel like you’re doing it by yourself, but it’s important to recognize that you’re not. Make the most of the unique skills across your entire team and empower them to be the best versions of themselves. Don’t let members become despondent. This will result in them feeling further removed from the product and the rest of the team. With more people working remotely it’s now more important than ever to check-in with people, provide constructive feedback, and celebrate their accomplishments, including times when they uncovered a key learning from a “failed” experiment. In times like these, it’s even more important to create an environment that allows, and even encourages, failure-driven learning.

The best product leaders provide the necessary structure and empowerment to their teams that enables them to make decisions independently. This level of autonomy and trust is only achievable by providing strategic intent and clear guidance for your product team. Set clear objectives and key results (OKRs) to align your teams towards the same set of objectives. This helps communicate the direction of your product and shows what the desired outcomes should look like. Your product teams can refer back to the planned OKRs to make sure they’re working on the right stuff and product decisions are focused on achieving progress towards the targeted outcomes. Providing your teams with as much context and guidance as possible, without dictating decisions, will help them feel in control and empowered – that’s how you can generate the autonomy and trust needed. 

Strategy and direction 

A product leader needs to define the framework for decisions to be made by the product team. This is why an effective product strategy needs to be clearly articulated and communicated. It’s important to think about how objectives from individual products can collectively achieve the desired outcomes for the overall business. Let’s say, for example, that you’re building a B2B product for property management companies to use, but you also provide a consumer-facing product (like a mobile app) that integrates with your main product. In this case, achieving engagement or utilization objectives for the mobile app will likely drive corresponding objectives for the B2B product, thereby increasing your overall business objective. It’s your job as a product leader to understand how individual product objectives fit together and contribute towards improvements in portfolio-level objectives. 

ProdPad’s portfolio canvas helps product leaders clearly define and communicate their vision and strategy. There’s space for you to describe the value proposition, problems, and solutions, as well as channels, revenue streams, and cost structure to help you articulate your product vision to all areas of the business.

Practice what you preach as product leaders

High-performance product leadership is not something that you simply learn from reading a book. Much like a product, a product leader needs to develop, learn, and adapt as necessary in order to be successful. Don’t be afraid of failure. As long as you document key decisions and accurately record the outcome of each initiative, you will be able to learn from each of your efforts. This, in turn, reduces the risk of bigger, more impactful failures in the future. 

It’s important that you transparently communicate your learnings, discoveries, and failures to teams under you. This is so junior members are aware that everyone, regardless of seniority, is seeking to continuously learn and improve. As a leader, every comment you make is magnified and, whether you realize it or not, will be seriously considered (and sometimes immediately acted upon) by everyone around you. It is your responsibility to promote a culture where people know they can fail and feel supported if they do. This honest and open approach to leadership instills a sense of freedom and autonomy within your teams.

Product managers are willing to stretch themselves, risking failure, knowing they are operating in an environment where it is safe to learn and iterate. For this to work, it has to start at the top. You’re in an influential position, with people looking up to you for your professional opinion and experience. 

Product leaders should check out our Idea Backlog

Our Idea Backlog is just one of the features which are highly regarded by product leaders on our Enterprise plan. Product managers now have a tool to capture, manage, and prioritize ideas from their organization, no matter the source or how “out-of-the-box” the idea might be. It helps the team focus on the most valuable ideas with a minimal amount of risk. It also simultaneously allows for creativity and innovation. Ideas going into ProdPad should be seen as an experiment. It is a potential solution to solve a defined problem – not as a feature request. It is a suggestion, often based on partially or entirely unvalidated assumptions, which may or may not be built. With testing and valuable team discussions, however, product ideas are able to develop without acquiring tech debt.

Tap into the whole organization

Understand the skills and knowledge of other teams within your organization. A good product leader will not only work within the capabilities of their own teams but also ensure that other functional areas are contributing to the development of product initiatives, too. Innovation and creativity often comes from sources outside the team working directly on the product. Make sure you’re keeping abreast of wider company discussions which might influence the initiatives you’re going to work on. For example, the marketing team might have carried out research and obtained valuable data on the current landscape. Perhaps the sales team returned from a tradeshow with feedback from prospective customers. Use this information to innovate with your teams and connect it all to the bigger picture. 

As mentioned previously, you are not alone in your journey towards better product management and leadership. ProdPad is home to some great product experts available to you. Why not book yourself in for a free demo? We’ll show you how you can use ProdPad to become a high-powered product leader. You can always reach out and catch me on Twitter, too.

Wes Galliher is the US Business Lead at ProdPad. Having spent most of his 10-year career either as a product manager or a consultant to product teams, he can empathize with both product managers themselves and the broader organizational challenges they often experience. He is passionate about teaching and supporting problem-driven approaches that achieve outcomes for both end users and business.

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